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The Incredible Invisible Woman

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By Megalibrarygirl
Historian Kathryn Kleiman discovered that women like Jean Bartok and Frances Spence – once considered "refrigerator ladies" – were in fact the first programmers of the ENIAC. (See also: Women in computing.)
Historian Kathryn Kleiman discovered that women like Jean Bartik and Frances Spence – once considered a type of model called "refrigerator ladies" – were in fact the first programmers of the ENIAC.[1] (See also: Women in computing.)

As we're leaving Black History Month and coming into Women's History Month, it's time to consider the incredible invisible woman. That's not a metaphor: women become invisible over time and are even written out of history altogether. Historian, Dr. Bettany Hughes says "We need to actively look for women's stories, and put them back into the historical narrative, there are so many women that should be household names but just aren't."[2] Sometimes, as in the case of an entire group of women programmers, their contributions are just disguised enough to become invisible – hidden in footnotes.[3] It's even more of an issue with black women in history. Just like the late Katherine Johnson, black women literally become "Hidden Figures".[4] Historical accounts may mention black women in history but then focus largely on white women's contributions.[5] In the United States, history curricula standards discuss women at a rate of "approximately 1 woman for every 3 men" and focus largely on white people's roles in history. History classes also tend to reflect women's activism, but ignore the other hats they wore through time.[6] In the United Kingdom, "there is just one statue of a named black woman in the entire country".[7] It was dedicated to Mary Seacole in 2016.[8]

We know women are missing from history as it is usually written. We know that they are actively written out and we know that their work is not taught at the same rates. If they are women of color (WOC) the statistics are even worse.

Portrait of Alice Wiley Seay
Not only was most of the information about suffragist Alice Wiley Seay behind paywalls, but even her public domain image was stored there! Clipping out the photo from allowed her to become literally visible online to more people.

So if women are being hidden, what are we supposed to do about it? Obviously, we aren't going to have the resources to create full parity between men, women and non-binary people throughout history. But we can make those whom history has left behind more visible. If you find resources in print, research suggests that helping that information get online can make it much more likely to be discovered.[9] Wikipedia itself is a huge source of digital object identifier (DOI) referrals.[10][11] Information stored in archives becomes more visible when added to Wikipedia.[12] In my own experiences, there are many women who are written about in newspapers and journals that are locked behind paywalls. This means their lives and works are effectively hidden from people without access. As editors, if we have access to databases, we are able to make that "invisible" information "visible". Recent examples of women brought to light from resources hiding in databases include civil rights activist Margaret Just Butcher, and pianist Cornelia Lampton.

Some opportunities to shine light on women and non-gender binary people this March include the following awesome projects: Art+Feminism is hosting virtual and physical edithathons around the globe. Women in Red in conjunction with Art+Feminism and Wiki Loves Folklore is doing a virtual editathon in March. Another excellent project, Women in Green is now a full WikiProject! Women in Green works to bring articles about women up to Good Article status. If you're into photography and finding freely licensed photography, consider adding to Visible Wiki Women this month. This initiative is a great way to help women be truly more visible. This Women's History Month, let's complete as much history as we can and let the women shine through!


  1. ^ Sheppard, Alyson (2013-10-13). "Meet the 'Refrigerator Ladies' Who Programmed the ENIAC". Mental Floss. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  2. ^ Sanders, Kevin (2016-02-29). "Why were women written out of history? An interview with Bettany Hughes". English Heritage Blog. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  3. ^ Yong, Ed (2019-02-11). "The Women Who Contributed to Science but Were Buried in Footnotes". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  4. ^ Jaggard, Victoria (26 February 2020). "When Will Science Celebrate Everyone Equally?". National Geographic. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  5. ^ Scott, Anne Firor (1990). "Most Invisible of All: Black Women's Voluntary Associations". The Journal of Southern History. 56 (1): 3. doi:10.2307/2210662 – via JSTOR.
  6. ^ White, Anna (March 2019). "What Schools Teach About Women's History Leaves a Lot to Be Desired". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  7. ^ "Why Women's History?". East End Women's Museum. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  8. ^ "UK's 'First' Black Woman Memorial Statue". BBC News. 2016-06-30. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  9. ^ Adriaanse, Leslie; Rensleigh, Chris (2018). "E-visibility of environmental science researchers at the University of South Africa". South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science. 83 (2). doi:10.7553/83-2-1636.
  10. ^ Wass, Joe (3 March 2015). "Real-time Stream of DOIs Being Cited in Wikipedia". Crossref. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  11. ^ "DOI Referrals from per day". Chronograph Labs. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  12. ^ Cooban, George (2017). "Should Archivists Edit Wikipedia, and If So How?". Archives & Records. 38 (2): 257–272. doi:10.1080/23257962.2017.1338561 – via EBSCOhost.
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Nominated for deletion yet again.
Her image (right) is displayed as public domain by both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Department of Energy, but we now have vexatious attempts to argue otherwise – novel arguments not previously presented for our many other good faith images from that laboratory.
Likewise the nomination for Did You Know is mired in noisy and unpleasant discussion, quite unlike the usual process. The extent to which such subjects attract hostile attention is quite remarkable so thanks to Megalibrarygirl for her timely article about this.
Andrew🐉(talk) 15:42, 2 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
No editwarring over joke photos. It could very easily be taken that you are making fun of non-binary people. We don't do that. Thanks for your understanding. Smallbones(smalltalk) 12:06, 6 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I've removed the photo once again. It has been re-inserted 3 times now, so I'd take another re-insertion as editwarring.
In the first issue after I became editor-in-chief, I wrote "The Signpost must be more sensitive to potential offense or insult among our diverse readership..
"We pledge that we will never attack or mock any group whose members include those who do not have a choice about their membership in the group. Groups covered by this pledge include, but are not limited to, those based on race, nationality, sex, gender, age, disability, social or economic status, veteran status, body type, or religion."
I intend to keep that pledge as best as I know how.
@EEng: has written in his edit comment "No, but non-binary vs. analog is a joke, and there are no special groups immune to good-natured humor." So we disagree. I'll just ask a couple of admins here to take a look if the photo is re-inserted again and decide on the best way to keep it out. @TonyBallioni and MER-C:. If no admin wishes to enforce WP:3RR or the wishes of The Signpost EiC, then I'll suggest just leaving it in and make sure that readers here are aware that The Signpost is not responsible for including it. Smallbones(smalltalk) 18:14, 6 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
re-inserted 3 times – Apparently you're not even paying attention to what got posted each time. The very first post to this thread inserted a photo of Clarice Phelps carrying the caption, Nominated for deletion yet again, misleadingly implying that Phelps herself was nominated for deletion (if that were possible), or that her article is up for deletion (which it's not – it's a garden-variety dispute over the image's licensing). So I posted the following image parodying misleading captions:
As a counterpoint to the ENIAC photo, these three women operating a differential analyser are an early example of non-binary people in computing.
Note: The Signpost is not responsible for the inclusion of the above. Obviously. A simple good-natured pun (apparent only after you check what's behind behind both links) on an accident of the English language mocks nobody. But some can't see that and removed it. OK, so instead I posted a comment on that removal:
This image has been subject to repeated vexatious, noisy, and unpleasant attempts to delete it [1][2][3].
Now that last caption, I will openly admit, does mock a certain group, to wit people intolerant of criticism of themselves. So you removed that too? Really? Because ... why? Because woke-scolds are a group whose members include those who do not have a choice about their membership in the group? Are you truly so lacking in self-perception? EEng 22:26, 6 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Followup: Stimulated by useful discussion here [4], particularly comments by Levivich, I think the following makes my original point much better:
There may be some non-binary people among those operating this differential analyser, but from the historical record there's probably no way to know it.

I am personally a bit surprised to see the extent to which anyone connected with this Phelps article seems very eager to assume bad faith. I would recommend that before you accuse others of vexatious attempts to make women disappear, you should maybe check to see if hypothetically, their last two GAs were biographies of women, and their next one is about to be too. GMGtalk 17:50, 2 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
The WP:RIGHTGREATWRONGS philosophy driving subaltern studies explicitly states bad faith must have been involved. While I myself wrote articles about women and persons of color, I have warned against these sorts of initiatives asserting that history hasn't represented enough of the right groups. Chris Troutman (talk) 18:12, 2 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Andrew Davidson, I like you, but this is just bullshit. I don't know about last year's PRODs or speedies or whatever, but at this point no one's trying to "delete" Clarice Phelps, or even her article, or questioning her notability. There's a question about the licensing of the image, and that is all. To see a conspiracy in this is asinine. Cool your jets. EEng 16:02, 3 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Numerous images of the subject have been deleted or nominated for deletion and the discussion for the image to the right is still open. The article too has been nominated and deleted so many times that it has been difficult to make an exact count. The issue here is of making such women (in)visible and it's a live one. Andrew🐉(talk) 16:40, 3 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
You're right, it's an ongoing conspiracy. EEng 04:57, 4 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
The nature of what's happening in such cases was discussed in a special report in last month's Signpost. Consider the image of Clarice Phelps shown here (above right). If it weren't for my caption, the ordinary reader would not even know that it has been tagged for deletion because there's no sign for them. If they click on the image, they are still not told. You have to click again and again through a maze of links to arrive at the deletion discussion which has few comments because it is so hard to find. It's the bureaucratic obfuscation satirised in HHGTTG:
"But the plans were on display…"
"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That’s the display department."
"With a flashlight."
"Ah, well, the lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."
Andrew🐉(talk) 10:20, 4 March 2020 (UTC) '[reply]
In other words, you uploaded an image locally to try to avoid a deletion discussion on the copyright status of the work, and you're annoyed that your attempt to circumvent that discussion didn't completely work. You wan't to complain that no one knows about the deletion nomination, when we actually have a bot for that which would have notified the talk page of the original nomination that you tried to circumvent by uploading locally, except you already did so. And you've already been advised that attempts to comply with copyright are not harassment, but you'd rather spend more time here having an opinion in entirely more edits than you've actually contributed to the article itself (exactly one), while disparaging people who are working to bring missing articles on women to GA status.
You are free to publicly express personal outrage to your heart's content, but please don't act like it's actually accomplishing anything. GMGtalk 22:29, 4 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Can't you see that the rules magically work to hide deletion discussions involving nonwhite nonmale nons? EEng 23:00, 4 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
That, of course, is the problem in a nutshell. Verifiability and 'only reflecting what reliable sources are saying' are vital principles here, but when reliable sources largely ignore someone, that gives us a problem. Neiltonks (talk) 10:56, 6 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]
@Neiltonks: It does not give us a problem because WP:V is a policy. Rather, our insistence on things like verifiability present a limit to the imaginations of a certain chattering class that thinks any outlet is only acceptable if it observes their preferred orthodoxies. I posit that we should recognize these RIGHTGREATWRONGS editors for what they are and encourage them to write for periodicals and publishing houses where their screeds could become source material instead of allowing them to circumvent policy altogether out of fear of their reprisals and persecutions. Chris Troutman (talk) 19:04, 9 March 2020 (UTC)[reply]


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